Year in review: Top 10 sports stories of 2019
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — In 2019, Routt County sports fans were intrigued by strong post-season performances from high school athletes, as well as stories of incredible feats from area athletes.
Steamboat Springs High School boys lacrosse concluded an undefeated regular season, and Soroco and Hayden high school track athletes earned state championships. Eleven Sailors committed to continuing their sports in college, including Nordic skier Waverly Gebhardt, who spent weeks competing in Europe. Soroco star Jace Logan chose to go to the University of Wyoming for rodeo rather than pursuing football or wrestling.
A pair of Steamboat hockey alums excelled in the Federal Hockey League and the National Hockey League, and the tennis center hinted at a new facility to host players of the nation’s fastest growing sport: pickleball.
What isn’t represented in these top 10 stories, were some impressive state wrestling performances, winter sports action, and the ever-growing bike races and running events that draw thousands to Steamboat Springs each summer.
Music blasted from the speakers of Kelly Meek Gymnasium at Steamboat Springs High School as students wearing their college shirts piled in to munch on free donuts and honor one of the biggest signing classes in Steamboat’s history. The class of seniors includes two Western Slope League Players of the Year and multiple all-state selections along with internationally competitive skiers.
While Steamboat awaits the conclusion of the girls soccer, girls and boys lacrosse and track seasons, it commemorates a highly successful year for all sports.
The idea of building an indoor multisport complex is being spearheaded by the Tennis Center at Steamboat Springs.
Tennis Center Director Loretta Conway was first approached by Randy Wert, vice president of the Steamboat Pickleball Association, about a complex that would meet the needs of not only pickleball enthusiasts but the greater community.
As a senior at Steamboat Springs High School, Waverly Gebhardt is spending her final year learning important lessons, but after spending more than three weeks training and competing in Europe this winter, the cross country skier also discovered that not every lesson is confined to a classroom.
“The biggest thing I learned was being able to balance the travel and listening to my body about what it needs — whether that was that I needed a day off or if I could push through intervals,” Gebhardt said.
The National Hockey League’s Eastern Conference final lit the televisions of an unlikely fanbase rooted in the West.
Steamboat Springs hockey fans watched intently as their very own Curtis McElhinney skated onto the ice for the Carolina Hurricanes during Game 2 against the New York Islanders in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
The heroic performance by the backup goaltender splattered across national sports headlines as the Hurricanes completed the four-game sweep.
Dustin Henning didn’t know if he’d make the Connecticut Junior Whalers hockey roster when he packed everything he owned in his truck and left Steamboat Springs 15 years ago.
“I was a homebody,” Henning said. “Somehow, I found the courage to jump in my truck and leave town. Here I am … still playing hockey.”
In his 11th year of playing professional hockey, Henning, 34, was named as one of the Federal Hockey League’s 2019 defensemen of the year.
The muddy ground is not yet dry enough for Jace Logan, 18, to practice rodeo in his arena in Yampa.
Before entering the arena, there’s an iron sign that reads, “Logan,” with different rodeo animals carved underneath. From the arena, you can see Yampa’s Finger Rock in the distance. Rodeo, unlike other sports Logan has played, is a lifestyle, which is why he best sees his future in it, but that wasn’t always clear to him.
Hayden High School freshman Alison Rajzer thought it was a bad jump.
“First phase felt perfect, second phase felt perfect, everything was perfect about it, but I was down on myself when I got to the pit because I didn’t realize it was a 35,” Rajzer said. “I thought it was only like a 31 or something, but then they put the numbers up.”
Rajzer leapt a personal-best 35 feet, 9 1/4 inches to win the Class 2A state title, beating out seniors from Paonia and Highland.
Steamboat Springs High School head boys lacrosse coach Jay Lattimore led his team to an undefeated season in the Class 4A Western League and a state quarterfinal on its home turf this season.
Lattimore didn’t just have a successful season on the field but also fostered a bond among his players during a tough season of injuries and tragedy, which helped lead to his selection as Western League Coach of the Year.
Steamboat Springs High School junior Mae Thorp played tennis for five hours and had only 40 minutes of total rest.
In the amount of time it took for her to win the Class 3A state semifinal match at No. 1 singles against Aspen senior Mary Williams, you could watch an Avengers movie or attend an NBA game. Some people might eat two meals.
Chloe Veilleux finally got her state championship in track.
Veilleux, a senior at Soroco High School, won the Class 2A 3,200-meter run with a time of 11 minutes, 45.44 seconds during day one of the state track meet at Jeffco Stadium in Lakewood.
To reach Shelby Reardon, call 970-871-4253, email sreardon@SteamboatPilot.com or follow her on Twitter @ByShelbyReardon.
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